In a kind of public school version of the television show “Survivor,” a group of more than 30 parents and teachers have been meeting for the past five months to determine which schools would be voted off the Lawrence school district’s island.
The Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group has until mid-February to make a recommendation. In this version of the game, the “tribal council” has been asked to reduce a list of six elementary schools — Cordley, Hillcrest, Kennedy, New York, Pinckney and Sunset Hill — down to either three or four within two years.
Several options have been on the table for more than a month. At a meeting last week, the group emotionally debated the pros and cons of several of the proposals that will be further analyzed by the district’s demographic consultants, RSP & Associates. The consolidation group will meet again at 7 p.m. Jan. 30 at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive.
Here are some of the pros and cons that group members have given for each option:
Combine Kennedy and New York at or near 15th Street and Haskell Avenue or at the Kennedy site
Pros: By combining the two schools, the students would have the benefits of a full-time nurse, full-time guidance counselor and other specialists such as music, art and physical education teachers. And a new school would provide a state-of-the-art facility on the east side of Lawrence. If the school is built near 15th Street and Haskell Avenue, it would be in a central location that would allow for many students to walk to school.
Cons: Combining Kennedy, 1605 Davis Road, and New York, 936 N.Y., would bring together students from two of the district’s poorest schools. More than 75 percent of the students would be classified as at risk. And combining the two schools could mean more students in each class, which would go against research that shows smaller class sizes are most important for at-risk students.
The opponents to the plan also point to population studies that indicate the east side of Lawrence could see a rebirth. If population projections hold true, the two schools combined would have 466 students by the year 2016. Right now, 185 students attend New York and 224 attend Kennedy.
Combine Cordley and New York
Pros: Parents said they like the socio-economic mix that comes from combining Cordley, 1837 Vt., and New York schools. The at-risk population would be at 54 percent, which would be the lowest of any other combination of schools in east Lawrence.
Right now fewer students attend New York than any other school in the district. Cordley parents suggest it would be easier to integrate New York’s 185 students into their student body of 300 than the other way around.
If Cordley is expanded it also can accept students from Broken Arrow, which is close to capacity. Also, expanding either Cordley and New York would mean not having to construct a new building, which might be cheaper.
Cons: No midpoint site has been identified to build a new school. By eliminating New York, the city would lose a school that is connected to downtown. But expanding New York could also be difficult because it has one of the smallest school sites in the district.
As for expanding Cordley, the nearly 100-year-old school has had several major additions and is in need of upgrades to become ADA compliant. Regardless of whether the school expands at New York or Cordley, students from the school that closes would have trouble walking to the one that expands.
Combine Hillcrest and Sunset Hill at the Sunset Hill site
Pros: Out of the six schools that are being considered, Hillcrest and Sunset Hill are the closest to each other. So by keeping Sunset Hill open, students from Hillcrest might still be able to walk to school. Hillcrest is at 1045 Hilltop Drive, while Sunset Hill is west of Iowa Street, at 901 Schwarz Road.
Proponents of this plan say the site at Sunset Hill has room for expansion and could be a “relief valve” for Sunflower School when it nears capacity.
They also note that while Hillcrest has a large community of students who are in the English as a second language program, those students don’t necessarily live in the surrounding neighborhoods. And those student wouldn’t necessarily have to remain in the same building to keep the program intact. About 60 percent of the students who attend Hillcrest are in the ESL program. The other 40 percent live in the surrounding neighborhoods.
Cons: Combined Sunset Hill and Hillcrest would have a population of more than 600, which is far more than the goal to keep schools in the 300-to-500 range. Right now, 214 of those students are in the ESL program.
A major question revolving around closing Hillcrest is what would happen to the ESL program. Some fear that relocating the program in its entirety would uproot existing teachers at the school that houses the program. Others have proposed that ESL students be spread out among cluster sites or return to the schools where they reside.
Close Pinckney and send students to Hillcrest or send Hillcrest students to Pinckney
Pros: By keeping Hillcrest open, the district’s model ESL program would stay intact. Hillcrest also has the size to expand and sits away from major streets, which makes it easier to drop off and pick up students. And plans that call for closing Pinckney, 810 W. Sixth St., note the school doesn’t have much room to expand and sits off a major street — Sixth Street — which makes traffic flow difficult.
Cons: Pinckney has a long history and is part of two vibrant historic neighborhoods. While Pinckney isn’t the most accessible school by car, many students walk there.
Regardless of which school closes, combining Hillcrest and Pinckney would result in a school of 585 students, which would be larger than any other school in the district at this time.